On Ash Wednesday, Let Us Revel in the Knowledge that We are Dust and to Dust We Shall Return

Ash Wed. 2014 Mortality

On Ash Wednesday, we dare to speak the truth. We speak the truth not in the refreshing light of the morning but in the cold darkness of a winter’s night. We are dust and to dust we shall return. We will die. We are mortal beings and so our lives will end. Our culture has taught us to deny death. Even our funerals have become celebrations of life. But life without the reality of death is lived cheaply, shallowly, in a half-sleep always pushing away and denying reality. So, on Ash Wednesday let us revel in the knowledge that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Revel in this knowledge because it liberates us!

On Ash Wednesday, the realty that we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves is born out in the knowledge that we are stardust, elements of the universe molded together over eons, molded together by a force bigger than we can even begin to imagine, a force we call God, whom we have come to know is LOVE. LOVE breathed into the timeless elements and from the dust our ancestors emerged. Each one of us lives and breathes and has our being as a result of the confluence of so many miracles we shall never be able to count. The LOVE who is God lives and breathes in with through and beyond us.

I have only words to describe the brilliant beings that each of you are. The splendor of what has emerged from the dust and what shall return to the dust is magnificent. That magnificence is made all the more spectacular with the knowledge that it is fleeting. The knowledge that we are dust and to dust we shall return liberates us from delusions of grandeur for we know that this spectacular, magnificent, life that we are currently experiencing will end and we shall die. There’s an Irish expression that I have come to love, it translates from the Gaelic into something like: “We’ll be lying down in the earth for about fifteen million years and we have only a short time here; a brief collection of moments. If that isn’t motivation for each and every one of us to live everything that is within us, then perhaps we have already died.

So, much of what passes for life in the 21st century is merely a distraction from the reality that we shall die. Preoccupied by our distractions we forget that we are part of something so much bigger than our minds can grasp. Each one of us was billions and billions and billions of years in the making and each and every molecule of who and what we are will continue to be for billions and billions and billions of years to come.

Who and what we are is beyond our ability to comprehend. We are part of something so much bigger than we can imagine. This small part of that reality this little piece that we call our life is a precious part of reality. If there is a sin that we must all confess, it is the sin of a life unlived. Our overwhelming fear of the unknown causes so many of us to settle for less. We cannot know what or how eternity shall unfold so we settle for something smaller, something more manageable and we live within the confines of what makes us feel safe. We dare not risk the temptation to wonder at the enormous reality of which we are all a part. We dare not begin to imagine how infinitesimal our time in this part of reality shall be. So, we settle for less, less wondering, less imagining, less dreaming, less reality, less life, and yes even less eternity.

On Ash Wednesday, the liberating knowledge that none of the distractions that make us feel safe can separate us from the truth that from dust we came and to dust we shall return, ought to at the very least empower us to live fully, here and now. On Ash Wednesday, we sit with the power of our own death to return us to the dust from whence we came. We spend a few moments mourning the missed opportunities, the failures and the pain and we talk a long, slow, deep, cleansing breath; a breath that reminds us of the first breath, the ruach of which our ancestors spoke, the breath, wind, spirit, that first breathed life into our dust-formed self; the breath, wind, spirit, that breathes even now, in, with, through, and beyond us, and we trust that that breath, wind, spirit, ruach comes from the Reality that lies at the very heart of all that is, the reality that we call God, the reality that we know is LOVE.

In and out we breathe, trusting that the One who is LOVE will breath in, with, through, and beyond us so that when our life here comes to its inevitable end, all that lies Beyond the Beyond, and Beyond that also will receive our dusty selves into the LOVE which is God.

Such freedom. Remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Such liberation. Let us live fully, here and now, savoring each and every moment of this wondrous life. Let us not settle for anything less than the magnitude of each and every moment. For we are dust, molded and shaped by LOVE, for LOVE, and to the dust we shall return. We are part of something so much greater than we can even begin to imagine. We are wonderfully and fearfully made, fit for life, here and now. We shall all die, return to the dust and there are billions and billions and billions of years to come. Our part in those years is a mystery; a mystery beyond our ability to begin to imagine.

Embrace eternity if you dare. Remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return and rejoice in the freedom that the knowledge of our death brings; the freedom to live fully here and now. Let it be so, dear friends. Let it be so!

Ash Wednesday homilies:

Evolution – There’s No Going Back here

Embracing Mortality: a reflection here

Stardust here

We Are ONE here

 

We Are ONE: an Ash Wednesday Homily

To help remind us that we are stardust, begin with this video: The Call of the Pleiades – Gerald Jay Markoe

When I was a Child, I was afraid of the dark.

When I was a child I was afraid to venture forth from the familiar.

When I was a child I was afraid of loosing people I loved.

When I was young I would look into the night sky afraid that I’d never be able to understand it all.

When I was young, I would look up at the stars afraid that God was just a figment of our wishful imaginations.

When I was young, a pastor smeared ashes upon my forehead and I was afraid because I thought I might die in bondage to sin.

When I was young, I heard the words “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” and I was afraid because I knew that I was nothing more than a worthless sinner.

When I was young, I caught sight of my face in the mirror and I was afraid because the ashen cross on my forehead reminded me that soon I would be dead and to dust I would return.

When I first became a pastor, I mixed the ashes and the oil together and I was afraid that the power of the ritual would remind us that we are dust and to dust we shall return and I was afraid because I loved you and couldn’t bear to loose you.

When the years passed, and ashen crosses became routine, I began to fear that the power of the ritual would fail to remind us that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

When I first became a theologian, I was afraid because I feared that our confessions convicted us of crimes too horrendous to be our own.

When my questions drove me into the wilderness of doubt, I was afraid that the MYSTERY would overwhelm me and even more afraid that in the wilderness I would find no MYSTERY at all.

When I first opened myself to the wilderness that surrounds us, I began to see my fears and I was afraid that I was not worthy of the MYSTERY for which I longed.

When I awakened from my fears, my eyes were clouded by sleepy dust; that strange dried mucus that forms as our tears harden beneath squinting lids that are determined to hide from us the Light we both long for and fear.

When I began to clear the dust from my eyes, it took time before I found the courage to gaze into the night skies to see the millions of bright lights that beckoned me to open myself to the ONE who is MYSTERY.

When I began to feel the embrace of REALITY, I was afraid because I knew that I too am fearfully and wonderfully made capable of reaching out beyond myself to the MYSTERY we call God.

When I began to trust that I too AM the result of the initial bursts of creative energy that brought the universe to birth, I saw in the night skies the light from the dying stars whose dust contains the stuff of life.

When I see the light shining in the darkness, I am beginning to know that we share the light’s energy. The Being that flowed through our ancestors lives and breathes in us.

When I begin to understand that the elements that make up my being are the elements born of stardust, I know that my own molecules have known unimaginable joy, outrageous pain, indescribable beauty, unspeakable suffering, as we journey from dust to dust.

When I consider that we are all One, you and I and the MYSTERY who creates, nourishes and sustains us, we are ONE.   I hear the words that Jesus spoke over and over again: do not be afraid, have no fear, fear not, for I and ABBA are ONE and where once I saw only wormwood and gall, I am beginning to see life and beauty, and love and eternity as we move from stardust, to dust.

To claim that we are stardust is to trust that we are connected to all that is, all that has ever been, and all that shall ever be.

 We are not small. We are not insignificant. We are not just dust. We are intimately ONE with the Source of Being, ONE with Christ, ONE with the Spirit that breathes in all of us; ONE with another, for we are LOVE, and LIGHT, LIFE and DEATH, I and THOU.

Now when I mix the oil and ashes, I sprinkle a few sparkles to remind us that we are not just dust, but stardust, intimately, intricately, interconnected.

 Now the darkness reveals the MYSTERY, the ULTIMATE REALITY, the ONE we call GOD, the ONE who gently beckons us forth into the light of life and the joy of living, trusting that here and now eternity is ours to embrace.

When I was a child, I was afraid of the dark.

I have lived too long under the condemnation constructed by stories that no longer inspire life.

In the starlight, the darkness gives way to eternity.

New stories are born; stories that share the truth of love and life, here and now.

I AM dust, the stuff that stars are made of.

I AM ONE with the LIGHT of LIGHTS, the Source of All Being.

Dust I AM and to dust I shall return; into the MYSTERY; the MYSTERY Who beckons us forth into life, beyond death, asking only that we have no fear, for we were made to embrace eternity.

Remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

For we are divine, One with GOD, now and always. Amen

Ash Wednesday – Stardust

purple universe“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” are the words that are spoken during Ash Wednesday’s Imposition of Ashes. I have always thought of the dust of the earth, funerals, and death during this age-old ritual. But last year during our worship, we added a new reading to our Ash Wednesday Liturgy. This new creation story embraces a perspective on reality that is all together different than that of our ancestors in the faith. This new perspective turned my thoughts toward life and eternity.

More and more I have come to believe that unless our worship together can embrace reality as it is viewed in the 21st century, we will fail in our efforts to make worship relevant in the 21st century.   

The Star Within

a creation story by Dr. Paula Lehman & Rev. Sarah Griffith

In the beginning, the energy of silence rested over an infinite horizon of pure nothingness.

The silence lasted for billions of years, stretching across aeons that the human mind cannot even remotely comprehend.

 Out of the silence arose the first ripples of sound, vibrations of pure energy that ruptured the tranquil stillness as a single point of raw potential, bearing all matter, all dimension, all energy, and all time: exploding like a massive fireball.

It was the greatest explosion of all time!

An irruption of infinite energy danced into being. It had a wild and joyful freedom about it, and like a dance it was richly endowed with coherence, elegance, and creativity.

The universe continued to expand and cool until the first atoms came into being. The force of gravity joined the cosmic dance; atoms clustered into primordial galaxies.

Giant clouds of hydrogen and helium gases gathered into condensed masses, giving birth to stars!

Generations of stars were born and died, born and died, and then our own star system, the solar system, was formed from a huge cloud of interstellar dust, enriched by the gifts of all those ancestral stars.

Planet Earth condensed out of a cloud that was rich in a diversity of elements.

Each atom of carbon, oxygen, silicon, calcium, and sodium had been given during the explosive death of ancient stars. These elements, this stuff of stars, included all the chemical elements necessary for the evolution of carbon-based life.

With the appearance of the first bacteria, the cosmic dance reached a more complex level of integration.

Molecules clustered together to form living cells!

Later came the algae, and then fish began to inhabit the waters!

Thence the journey of life on land and in the sky.

Insects, amphibians, birds, reptiles, and mammals: all flourished and diversified and elaborated the themes of life. And now it is our time, too.

This is our story.

The story of our beginning, our cosmology.

And so we commence our Lenten Journey this night – this Ash Wednesday, with open hearts in the midst of our Creator.

As we partake in our daily things of life may we see them as sacred.

May we be empowered to perform simple acts of concern and love, and real works of reform and renewal.

Let us love deeply the earth which gives us
 air to breathe, water to drink, and food to sustain us.

May we remember that life is begotten from stardust, radiant in light and heat.

We are all one – all of creation, all that now live, 
all that have ever lived.

Remember we are stardust, and to stardust we return.

Remember we are part of the great mystery.

Remember we are stardust and to stardust we return!

 

Ash Wednesday – Stardust

purple universe“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” are the words that are spoken during Ash Wednesday’s Imposition of Ashes. I have always thought of the dust of the earth, funerals, and death during this age-old ritual. But last year during our worship, we added a new reading to our Ash Wednesday Liturgy. This new creation story embraces a perspective on reality that is all together different than that of our ancestors in the faith. This new perspective turned my thoughts toward life and eternity.

More and more I have come to believe that unless our worship together can embrace reality as it is viewed in the 21st century, we will fail in our efforts to make worship relevant in the 21st century.   

The Star Within

a creation story by Dr. Paula Lehman & Rev. Sarah Griffith

In the beginning, the energy of silence rested over an infinite horizon of pure nothingness.

The silence lasted for billions of years, stretching across aeons that the human mind cannot even remotely comprehend.

 Out of the silence arose the first ripples of sound, vibrations of pure energy that ruptured the tranquil stillness as a single point of raw potential, bearing all matter, all dimension, all energy, and all time: exploding like a massive fireball.

It was the greatest explosion of all time!

An irruption of infinite energy danced into being. It had a wild and joyful freedom about it, and like a dance it was richly endowed with coherence, elegance, and creativity.

The universe continued to expand and cool until the first atoms came into being. The force of gravity joined the cosmic dance; atoms clustered into primordial galaxies.

Giant clouds of hydrogen and helium gases gathered into condensed masses, giving birth to stars!

Generations of stars were born and died, born and died, and then our own star system, the solar system, was formed from a huge cloud of interstellar dust, enriched by the gifts of all those ancestral stars.

Planet Earth condensed out of a cloud that was rich in a diversity of elements.

Each atom of carbon, oxygen, silicon, calcium, and sodium had been given during the explosive death of ancient stars. These elements, this stuff of stars, included all the chemical elements necessary for the evolution of carbon-based life.

With the appearance of the first bacteria, the cosmic dance reached a more complex level of integration.

Molecules clustered together to form living cells!

Later came the algae, and then fish began to inhabit the waters!

Thence the journey of life on land and in the sky.

Insects, amphibians, birds, reptiles, and mammals: all flourished and diversified and elaborated the themes of life. And now it is our time, too.

This is our story.

The story of our beginning, our cosmology.

And so we commence our Lenten Journey this night – this Ash Wednesday, with open hearts in the midst of our Creator.

As we partake in our daily things of life may we see them as sacred.

May we be empowered to perform simple acts of concern and love, and real works of reform and renewal.

Let us love deeply the earth which gives us
 air to breathe, water to drink, and food to sustain us.

May we remember that life is begotten from stardust, radiant in light and heat.

We are all one – all of creation, all that now live, 
all that have ever lived.

Remember we are stardust, and to stardust we return.

Remember we are part of the great mystery.

Remember we are stardust and to stardust we return!

 

Ash Wednesday – Embracing Eternity

Click here to listen to the worship service:  Ash Wed Service

Click here to download the worship bulletin Ash Wednesday Feb 22 2012